As we finish 2021, I wanted to share a few recent Cambridge Public Schools headlines with you.
First, I have received a couple questions about the postponed meeting regarding Dr. Victoria Greer’s contract. The proposal that the Committee will consider is to extend Dr. Greer’s employment for a year and to drop the “Interim” qualifier from her title, officially making her Superintendent through June 2023. In our original contract, we included a clause which allowed us to stretch the interim position for a second year. I have been pleased with Dr. Greer’s leadership, and hope that having the title of Superintendent will better position her to drive timely, needed change in our schools. I look forward to hearing your thoughts via email, phone, or public comment at the meeting.
Hundreds of high school students at the walkout
The second headline is not a happy one, nor is it a surprise: our students are struggling with mental health and general well-being. Beyond the data from last spring’s Teen Health Survey, our students have been vocalizing their concerns in real-time, organizing events such as a walkout at CRLS to protest sexual assault and a Day of Silence at one our upper schools to educate peers and the school community about what young people who are LGBTQIA+ experience routinely.
I continue to be impressed and inspired by our young people’s activism and leadership. I also continue to work to learn how, from my perch as a policy maker, I can help make our schools dramatically safer, more welcoming and affirming environments. At CRLS, my immediate action, having attended the walkout and spoken with a few of the organizers, was to amplify and endorse the student requests, all three of which struck me as entirely reasonable. The students asked for adult-facilitated conversations about sexual assault, an incident-reporting system that followed-up with each individual who filed a complaint, and a mandatory consent curriculum for all students. At my request, Dr. Greer updated the Committee and community on these requests at our December 7th meeting (minutes 0:41-1:03).
Breaking ground for the new school building
Finally, the end of the calendar year coincided with the symbolic transition from an old school building to a new one, as elected, city, and school officials gathered to break ground for the building that will house the new Tobin Montessori School, the Vassal Lane Upper School, and four preschool classrooms run by the Department of Human Services. As a parent in the old building for a full decade, I will always remember that the foreboding exterior concealed the warmth felt by young and adult members of the communities inside. I am excited for our students, educators, families and community members who will have a beautiful, healthy, thoughtfully designed new building in which to thrive, come 2025.
I wish you and yours a healthy, joyous 2022 full of learning and growth! I look forward to our work together in the new year.
P.S. The new School Committee will be sworn in on Monday at 6p. With COVID precautions, the in-person capacity is quite limited, but you can catch the live-stream at www.cpsd.us or Cambridge Educational Access TV Channel 98/99.
Whether you marked Thanksgiving, the National Day of Mourning, Hanukah, or none of the above, I hope you were nourished by friends, family, and community this past weekend.
Believe it or not, though I last wrote to you with election results, I’m reaching out to you today about another election in two weeks. I have endorsed Lydia Edwards for the First Suffolk & Middlesex Senate seat, and this district includes Cambridgeport! This is a special election, and we need Lydia Edwards to win.
For those of you who are not yet familiar with her, you can meet Lydia through this education OpEd she wrote last week.
Will you commit to voting for Lydia on Tuesday, December 14th? Early voting starts in one week, and voting by mail starts even sooner! Learn more at LydiaEdwards.org/Vote. Sign up to help get your neighbors out to vote -- hop on a phone bank or knock on some doors!
In other timely news, the School Climate Subcommittee, which I chair, is meeting tomorrow (Tuesday, November 30 from 6-8p via Zoom) to discuss results from the 2021 Teen Health Survey. To say our middle and high school students are struggling is an understatement. I hope you will join us to make sense of the data and explore policy and systems improvements. Please note that you can watch the meeting live without registering, but participating in the conversation requires signing-up here by 5p tomorrow.
As always, please reach out with questions, concerns or ideas.
I'm pleased to share that Cambridge voters have sent me back to the School Committee! Notably, we won in the "first count," which means that we reached quota for a seat on the Committee with #1 votes alone. THANK YOU for your votes of confidence.
Extra thanks to all of you who knocked on doors, emailed friends, donated money, and held signs at the polls. We had ourselves a great team!
In the next term, I look forward to working with you all - students, caregivers, educators, and many other devoted community members - to advance our shared goals of making our schools antiracist, increasing academic rigor for all students, and preparing all students to thrive upon graduation from CPS.
Five days! That’s how long I have to talk to voters and ask them to support my reelection with their #1 votes. If you support me but haven’t yet let all your friends know you do, there’s still time to email your network.
When I was sworn in to serve on the School Committee in January of 2020, I had no idea of the extraordinary challenges ahead. Through the ups and downs of COVID-19, an interim superintendent search, and the ongoing challenges of improving our schools, I have walked my talk, promoting the policies, processes and expenditures that I have believed will help our students recover and thrive. My approach has included regular collaboration with students, families, staff, community members and colleagues to forward antiracist efforts.
Leading effectively comes at a cost, and I have faced vocal opposition in recent months. A group of residents is working against my reelection, as is their right. These families are upset because I have advocated strongly for vaccine mandates (now in place for all staff and soon in effect for students twelve and over at CPS-sponsored extracurricular activities). I have taken this position because I trust the Cambridge Department of Public Health, the Cambridge Public Schools’ Health and Safety Advisors, and the FDA. For me, the immediate, proven risks from COVID outweigh potential side effects from vaccines that may or may not emerge in the future. In our current circumstances, I see the need to put the greater community’s health ahead of personal choice. While I am clear about my position, I respect those who disagree, and I will go on engaging with people who hold different perspectives. That said, I would appreciate your help explaining my position on vaccines to your own concerned friends, especially before they vote.
There are still five days until voting ends. If you support my work to see a champion for every child, a district plan that translates into all of our students meeting or exceeding grade level expectations, the advancement of universal pre-Kindergarten, improvements in our career technical education, and, yes, adoption of vaccine mandates that will help students and staff continue to learn in-person safely, then I ask you to help before the polls close. Join me to talk to voters over the weekend or to hold a sign near a polling place on Tuesday. I am truly grateful to those of you who’ve helped so far, and I am excited to see more of you involved in the final push! Simply reply to this email to let me know when you’re available.
Finally, please grant me a moment to acknowledge the loss of one of our great Cambridge Rindge and Latin School educators last month. I was fortunate to have Donald Burroughs as an English teacher and community-builder in the Pilot School at CRLS. I will always remember him for introducing me to the author Gloria Naylor and for his singing in the Pilot plays. Donald, along with his amazing colleagues, gracefully held space for his students to reflect on controversy within the school and in the world-at-large. All of our children deserve teachers like Donald, who connect with them, hold them to high standards, push them, and laugh with them. May we honor his legacy by, among other things, continuing his work to advance racial equity in our schools. (You can hear School Committee Member Wilson’s and my tributes, as well as the memorial resolution for Donald, at the 3:32 point of this meeting.)
As always, I welcome your questions, ideas, and feedback.
We’re off and running, with both the school year and the electoral race! My heart has lifted as I’ve welcomed students back to school and heard the happy sounds of young friends reuniting. Last week, I was pleased to see most of the ninth-graders in the classes I visited give thumbs up about their first days at CRLS.
(Gorgeous art at KLo and new students at VLUS)
One of the good things to come out of this COVID era is the expansion of voting by mail. In Cambridge, the Election Commission sent every registered voter an application to mail in their ballots. I wholeheartedly support this expanded access to voting. It does, however, mean that Cantabrigians begin casting their votes THIS WEEK, so time is of the essence in letting your networks know you endorse my candidacy!
Please let me know how you can help between today and November 2. Here go some options:
- Meet voters at their doors
- Host a backyard or Zoom house party
- E/mail your networks of friends, neighbors and colleagues to encourage them to vote #1 for Rachel
- Take a visibility shift and hold a sign on Election Day
In our proportional representation system, incumbents are not safe. I need your help securing #1 votes so that we can continue the work we’ve begun towards making our schools antiracist, more rigorous, and more full of joy and collaboration!
Click on this image for a 3-minute reminder of my values and goals.
As always, I welcome your questions and ideas.
I write this while thinking of our siblings in Haiti and Afghanistan. The world holds so much pain, and we each have to find our way to respond. The classic “Think Globally, Act Locally” bumper sticker is a helpful frame for me. Those able to support Haitians and Afghanis financially in these moments of crisis might consider contributing to Fonkoze, Hope for Haiti, and/or Women for Women.
Rally For Our Youth, organized by My Brother’s Keeper Cambridge 8.2.21 - Wicked Local Staff Photo/Ann Ringwood
Locally, our young people are experiencing an uptick in violence. I’m grateful that My Brother’s Keeper Cambridge, Councilors Simmons and McGovern, Vice Mayor Mallon, and Mayor Siddiqui have convened various meetings to address the shootings in the Port as well as tensions between young people in North Cambridge and the Port. I continue to believe that, if we were to provide every child with a champion -- an adult who helps them navigate school, connect with opportunities that excite them, and secure needed resources -- we would effectively prevent most violence amongst our teenagers and emerging adults. I remain committed to advancing this cause in our schools and community, and I’m also eager to support complementary efforts.
As our children get ready to return to school September 9, we continue to work to protect them and everyone around them from COVID-19. I have been pleased to see the recommendations from Interim Superintendent Greer and her team, which have included universal masking inside school buildings and outdoor lunch as much as possible. The School Committee has passed these proposals unanimously.
On the Committee, I have been the most vocal advocate for mandating vaccines for anyone in schools who is eligible and does not have a medical or religious reason not to get vaccinated. You can read the joint Cambridge Chronicle OpEd piece City Councilor Patty Nolan and I wrote on this topic here (or the shorter letter to the Boston Globe editor here). I know that many of you have weighed-in with the City Manager and School Committee about a vaccine mandate - thank you for speaking out.
In closing, the stretch between Labor Day and Election Day is peak campaign season! Your campaign help could make the difference in sending me back to the School Committee. Please sign up to write to your friends, knock on doors, and/or host a yard sign. Strengthening our schools and improving outcomes for our children will take all of us. I am very grateful to count you as partners.
As always, I welcome your ideas and questions.
I hope you and your loved ones are well and enjoying the summer.
In this moment, having just lost both a community elder and another young person, let us again recommit to crucial racial and social justice work. We give thanks for the life of Civil Rights giant Bob Moses and we grieve Robert Favreau, who was killed without the opportunity to reach his potential.
In related news, this month has brought two notable shifts in my School Committee experience. First, we welcomed Dr. Victoria Greer as she began her tenure as Interim Superintendent of the Cambridge Public Schools. Earlier this month, the Committee had an initial retreat with Dr. Greer. We focused on how best to work together, including protocols and timelines for communication. The energy in the room was good and I left the day optimistic about our future collaborations.
Dr. Victoria Greer, Interim Superintendent
A key piece of being an effective leadership team for the school district is having a short list of shared goals and objectives. As you may know, largely due to COVID, we have been working within the framework of an outdated district plan. As part of Dr. Greer’s entry process, we will be defining short-term goals and developing a timeline for adopting a new, multiyear district plan. I look forward to honing in on these shared priorities and working together to advance them.
The second big shift recently has been the official start of the campaign season. As of this writing, there are 10 candidates running for the six School Committee seats. There may be more before the August 2nd deadline arrives. Between the crowded field and the tumultuous term, it promises to be a competitive race.
My daughter joined me to pull papers at the Cambridge Election Commission.
If you are a monthly reader of this newsletter, you know that I have worked tirelessly over the past 19 months to ensure that our students are healthy, connected with caring adults and peers, learning in antiracist classrooms, and challenged academically. Whether working with high school students, families, and educators on the Interim Superintendent process, or pushing for more funding for family engagement, I have always striven to approach the work collaboratively and strategically. There is so much more we need to do to ensure that all our children graduate from the Cambridge Public Schools prepared to thrive in their postsecondary and civic lives. I hope to have the privilege of serving a second term and continuing this work with all of you, but I can’t win without your help. Please take a minute to pledge your #1 vote, sign up to volunteer, and donate to the campaign!
Happy Summer! Happy Pride! Happy (almost) Juneteenth! I sense a collective lifting of spirits as our fortunate community becomes vaccinated and the days become longer.
This month’s newsletter is more of a photo update, rather than a written reflection. That’s because you can read my latest thinking on this exceptional term in the Cambridge Chronicle.
Click on this image or here to read the OpEd.
No doubt, part of the reason my own spirits are lifting is because I’ve been able to connect with more of you in person in recent months. Here are some recent highlights:
A few weeks ago, we held our last Down with Design gathering. These Mental Health Awareness Month t-shirts were donated by Mayor Siddiqui - and the beautiful logo was designed by CRLS student Lisa Jones!
City Councilor Sobrinho-Wheeler, Councilor Zondervan, School Committee Member Ayesha Wilson and I were honored to support the CRLS students kicking off the Cambridge chapter of the Sunrise Movement.
Vice Mayor Mallon, Mayor Siddiqui, and I were delighted to connect with many CPSD families and community partners at the district’s and Mayor’s Resource Fair last weekend.
Last but not least, a big CongRatuLationS to the CRLS and High School Extension Program seniors who graduated this week! Completing high school is always a milestone, but this class has overcome more obstacles than most. My hat is off to them, their families, and their educators.
In closing, this month marks the end of Dr. Kenneth Salim’s five year tenure leading the Cambridge Public Schools. I am thankful to the Superintendent for his dedication to our district, round-the-clock service through COVID-19, and wish him all the best in his future endeavors.
As always, I welcome your questions and ideas.
Flowers are blooming, vaccines are going in arms, and we have a new Interim Superintendent of Schools! Last night, the School Committee voted to appoint Dr. Victoria Greer to lead our district for a year beginning July 1. I look forward to working with Dr. Greer, particularly because I’ve heard that she consistently prioritizes student needs in each of her decisions. In speaking with her references, Mayor Siddiqui and I heard that, even when they disagreed with her, Dr. Greer’s determinations centered students.
The students who interviewed Interim Supt candidates gave us all insight into the three finalists.
In addition to enabling a good interim appointment, I believe the selection process our community and School Committee used will help shape the search for a permanent superintendent. After conducting separate interviews with panels of students, family members, and staff, we posted the forums on the CPSD website with subtitles in multiple languages. We also invited community members to share their reflections and questions in a form that was public. I’m proud to have played a central role in this process, working closely with Mayor Siddiqui and Member Rojas.
The Committee’s conversation Tuesday night about providing remote learners social opportunities can be found here at the 1:27 mark.
In other news, while most of our students have returned to in-person learning (and more high school students will return Monday), I continue to be concerned about the roughly 30% of students who are staying remote until September. If you have read this newsletter for a few months, you know that I put my policy-making hat aside to work with students and partners on monthly gatherings for CRLS students. I remain frustrated that our district has not done more to offer all remote students chances to connect with peers and adults outside and safely. Having unsuccessfully advocated for school-formed pods in the spring of 2020, outdoor learning and walking tours (an idea from parents) last summer, and supervised recess for remote learners (an idea from a teacher) last fall, I brought a policy motion forward this week requiring schools to invite remote learners to gather with in-person learners and school teams at least twice before the next school year. Members Weinstein and Wilson co-sponsored this motion, which leaves the specifics about when and where outside to schools. Our intent was to ensure that students who have been remote for close to 15 months are able to see friends and reconnect with their schools before the end of this school year. We believe that this will help their mental health over the summer and reduce anxiety about returning to in-person learning in the fall.
Elijah gives instructions during the scavenger hunt at last week’s Down with Design.
In closing, I have truly enjoyed recent visits with a Civics class, the Young People’s Project, and a workshop convened by the Intersectional Feminist Club. I’m looking forward to being allowed back inside schools to visit students and teachers in the same room!
As always, I welcome your ideas and questions.
I hope this finds you well and your spirits lifting with the arrival of spring and vaccines.
Last month, this newsletter noted the passing by suicide of a CRLS scholar. This month, my heart aches to share the news of the murder of Xavier Louis-Jacques, a recent CRLS graduate, artist and athlete. Xavier’s friends and educators remember his warmth, kindness and humor. The media often talks about gun violence in mass shootings, which are beyond horrific. According to Vox (3.23.21), mass shootings make up less than two percent of gun deaths in this country. We need real gun control.
We should hold one another in community.
On an upbeat note, next week, many more of our children will return to in-person learning, marking another pandemic milestone. It’s notable to me that this month’s newsletter is focused on our search for an Interim Superintendent and next year’s budget, topics that we would address in non-Covid years, too.
When Dr. Salim submitted his resignation in January, my colleagues and I decided to launch a search for an Interim Superintendent. The requirements for an interim search are different than for a permanent search. The School Committee has the authority to simply appoint an Interim Superintendent. Because we are committed to antiracism and closing opportunity gaps of all sorts, we wanted to incorporate some community engagement where possible, despite the quick timeline.
As a member of the ad hoc search committee, I have worked closely with Mayor Siddiqui, Member Rojas, and our Chief Talent Officer, Lisa Richardson, to design an abbreviated calendar that centers student, caregiver and staff voices. We have invited finalists to meet with these three groups of stakeholders for interviews that the stakeholders design and lead. On April 8th, the candidates will rotate through 45-minute sessions with each of these groups.
(Here is the link to watch the Committee discuss this process)
We know that the panelists in these stakeholder groups will ask critical questions of interim superintendent candidates. It’s also worth noting that, while we are observing how finalists interact with community members, we are also giving them an impression of what it would be like to work for our district and how we walk our antiracist talk.
To view these interviews, please visit the Interim Superintendent Search page for links. In the coming days, a new form will be added through which you can submit feedback on the candidates as well as suggest questions for the School Committee to ask when candidates come before us.
In other news, I am pleased to see the following items in the Superintendent’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2022:
- The expansion of the Early College program, which provides high school students with rigorous learning and college credits before they graduate from CRLS. I’m also glad to see we are seeking the state’s “Early College Designation,” as I expect that will require a larger program with proven results, especially for students who are the first in their families to attend college.
- Expanded funding for a full-time social worker at every elementary school. Our children deserve the social emotional support and case work social workers can provide, now more than ever.
- Increased capacity to provide language access to all families. In addition to addressing a clear access issue, we all will benefit from more caregivers participating in public forums (with interpretation services).
The additions to the budget that I’m seeking include:
- Increasing Family Liaisons to 40-hours per week at every school. The Family Liaisons do critical work to close opportunity gaps for students. Among other things, families routinely turn to them for help navigating food, housing, and after school care, all challenges that impact well-being and learning.
- Allocating more funding for intensive tutoring, enhanced after school programming, and/or another strategy to augment our existing academic supports as we emerge from remote learning.
Apropos of which, I am advocating for a process this year through which the School Committee will approve the use of federal recovery and rescue funds. In typical times, we approve such grants through a consent agenda. Since we anticipate upwards of $13m coming to the district, I believe the Committee should have more oversight of these significant resources dedicated to building back stronger.
Just as this Tobin Montessori poster encourages a growth mindset in students, we too must be persistent learning to close opportunity and achievement gaps.
We are fortunate to live in a city that has increased the School Department’s budget by an astounding 22% in the last four fiscal years. Now we must ensure that our academic and wellbeing outcomes reflect and go beyond that investment.
As always, I welcome your questions and suggestions.